Review: Heckler & Koch HK45 LEM

Review: Heckler & Koch HK45 LEM
H&K's HK 45 LEM makes a great duty or home defense gun.

The new Heckler & Koch HK45 LEM is based on the firm's USP pistol and was originally designed to meet requirements of the U.S. Military Joint Combat Pistol program. The most obvious change from the USP is the use of a more ergonomic polymer grip with interchangeable backstraps. The grip was also slimmed down by using a 10-round magazine rather than the USP's 12-rounder.

The slide reciprocates on four steel inserts in the fiber-reinforced polymer frame. The magazine release is a paddle at the base of the trigger guard that is pushed down and can be operated from either the port or starboard sides.


My sample was the HK45 LEM (Law Enforcement Modification), a double-action-only model. With a conventional DA/SA or DAO system the trigger pull must compress the hammer spring, resulting in a heavy trigger stroke. The LEM module utilizes a cocking-piece spring and a hammer-strut spring. The result is that when the trigger is pulled through a complete stroke it must overcome only the tension of the hammer strut spring, which is on the order of two pounds.

Near the end of the trigger stroke, additional force is applied to the trigger, tripping the sear and releasing the cocking piece spring, which drives the hammer forward. In the event of a misfire, the trigger can be pulled again—albeit against the increased pressure of the internal cocking piece spring.

The LEM module can be had with a "light" trigger pull of 4.5 to 5.5 pounds or a "heavy" trigger pull of 7.5 to 8.5 pounds. While the LEM provides the simplicity of operation and innate safety of a DAO trigger, H&K does offer the HK45 LEM with the option of an external safety lever.

At 7.25 inches long and 4.5 inches high, the HK45 is a big pistol, but with the medium backstrap installed I found that it pointed perfectly for me, thanks in part to the grip's finger grooves and texturing. The polymer frame has a large trigger guard, a nod to the fact that many users may be wearing gloves, and an accessory rail.

H&K HK45 LEM trigger

The machined steel slide features front and rear grasping grooves, and the nose of the slide is tapered to allow easy one handed re-holstering. It sports tritium three-dot sights, both of which can be drifted for windage, and a generously sized ejection port and extractor.

The cold hammer forged barrel has polygonal rifling and is fitted with an O-ring near the muzzle for precise barrel/slide lockup and enhanced accuracy. The bobbed hammer is deeply serrated for thumb cocking.

The HK45 LEM features an internal safety device. The latter is located at the rear of the magazine and is operated via a key; it locks the hammer, trigger and slide to prevent unauthorized firing of the pistol.

The HK45 LEM uses an internal mechanical recoil reduction device which consists of a polymer bushing wrapped around the single recoil spring that acts as a buffer stop during recoil. The bushing compresses as the slide nears the end of its travel, preventing an abrupt, hard stop common as the slide impacts the frame. It reduces the recoil forces by as much as 30 percent, improving shooter control during rapid fire and increasing component service life.

H&K recommends replacing the bushing/recoil spring assembly every 20,000 rounds, but I was informed that in a recent endurance test an HK45 was fired 45,000 times with full-power .45 ACP ammo without requiring replacement of the bushing/recoil spring assembly.

H&K HK45 barrel

I believe H&K's LEM trigger is one of the best DAO triggers I've tried. During testing, its light first shot trigger stroke and short reset, which was easily felt, allowed me to make a fast initial shot and accurate follow-up shots.

My only real complaint was that the clearance groove in the bottom of the trigger guard galled my trigger finger, and I think H&K should aggressively bevel the edges of this groove.

Also, while its controls were well-located and easy to manipulate, pushing the magazine release down instead of in just didn't feel normal to me. However, magazines fell free loaded or unloaded, slide forward or locked back. The mags feature a finger-rest base plate that provides a secure grip for even those with large hands.

While it's obvious that you won't be using an HK45 for concealed carry, its reliability, accuracy and excellent recoil control makes it equally adaptable to military/police service and as a civilian home defense pistol. And I believe that if the U.S. armed forces ever switch back to a .45 caliber pistol, the HK45 LEM is going to be a top contender.

Fast Specs

  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Capacity: 10+1
  • Barrel length: 4.5 in.
  • OAL/Height/Width: 7.25/5.8/1.4 in.
  • Weight: 27.7 oz.
  • Construction: nitro carbunized steel slide; fiber-reinforced polymer frame
  • Finish: blue
  • Sights: drift adjustable tritium 3-dot
  • Grips: textured polymer
  • Trigger: light-pull DAO; pull not measured
  • Price: $1,237
  • Manufacturer: H&K USA

Accuracy Results

  • Smallest avg. group: 230 gr. Hornady TAP +P—2.5 in.
  • Largest avg. group: 230 gr. Winchester FMJ—2.75 in.
  • Avg. of all ammo tested (4 types)—2.5 in.
  • Accuracy results are the averages of three five-shot groups fired from a Caldwell Matrix rest at 25 yards.

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